Posted on Mon, Oct. 23, 2006
Q&A with Haitian President René Préval
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles conducted an interview with Haitian President René Préval on Oct. 18. The following is a transcript of that interview:
• Q: Your government and U.N. peacekeepers known as MINUSTAH recently launched a program to disarm armed gangs and reinsert their members into civilian life, known as DDR. How is that working?
• A: We have spoken to the gang leaders and they have turned in guns. And today, they not only have turned in guns, but they have sent people into the DDR … There are 110 people in the program.
• Q: There is definitely a stepped up police presence in Port-au-Prince.
• A: The police recently entered (the long-violent slum of) Cité Soleil and the population was happy. This was done with an accord of the gang leaders and the population. It was not done in confrontation, but in dialogue. You will see in the metropolitan zone there are a lot of policemen in the streets. But we have to give them more materials to do their jobs; that means more cars, motorcycles and more radios. There are 500 new police recruits preparing to graduate. There is already a significant diminishing of insecurity. The police are giving people an increased sense of security.
• Q: You’ve said strengthening the police and justice systems are top priorities. What are your plans?
• A:We are going to do a reform of the police with vetting, with the changing of certain commanders and giving them more means to do their jobs … We need to improve the conditions in which they eat, improve their health insurance and in the future, increase their salary. A police officer now receives $200 a month, which means he can just barely pay his house. This salary makes it easy for police to be corrupted.
• Q:What about judicial reforms?
• A:You have to strengthen the justice system. The prosecutor is working with the police to make sure when the police makes an arrest, it is done so correctly. He’s working with the police in building their cases. We have to make an effort to put kidnappers and thieves before the law.”
• Q: What about corruption?
• A: This is a government pushing transparency. For example, each month we will publish on the Internet all of the money that comes into the government, and all of the money spent by the government. Even the (presidential) palace will have to say how much the president’s trips cost.
• Q: In addition to the various commissions investigating corruption complaints, what else is the government doing to address this?
• A: We have a law we are going to introduce, where the president, ministers, everybody who has authorization to sign government checks, will have to declare every year their assets. Do you have a car, a house, jewelry, bank account, investments? All of your assets, you will have to declare. It’s one of the weapons against corruption.
• Q: What about the state-owned telephone company, Teleco?
• A: Today Teleco is losing money …We are going to have Teleco … become a mixed company, government/private-owned. When you are doing telecommunications you want someone who knows what they are doing and who has money to invest in it … No deputies, senators, ministers, are going to put their people in there because the private sector won’t accept it.
• Q: Teleco and others government workers who were fired during the previous transition government continue to demand their jobs back.
• A: The people who were fired during the transition, we won’t leave them behind. We will talk to them. Those who are inside Teleco right now, we are going to make a lot of them leave as well. So we arrive at the necessary amount of people at Teleco … We are not going to do demagogy or partisan politics, to put people in so they can shout Long Live Préval!”
• Q: Haiti has been called one of the most corrupt places in the world. Do you believe you can change this?
• A: We are underdeveloped in everything, and we are underdeveloped in corruption too. If they are looking for a country that has corruption, I don’t believe Haiti is the model of corruption. I believe Haiti has a weakness in fighting corruption but it’s petty corruption; it’s not big corruption … If you put it proportion to the problems of the country, it resembles big corruption. But if you look at other countries, we are not yet strong in corruption.
• Q: Why do you believe it’s so hard to get foreigners to invest in Haiti?
A: It’s not insecurity that makes people not come and invest in Haiti. There is an inordinate amount of kidnappings, if not more, in other countries whose names I won’t mention. The problem in Haiti is a lack of political security … Once you can guarantee that there is political stability, that another government is not going to come and change the game, there will be investments… It’s a problem of the image of Haiti. Once we change it, people will return to invest.
• Q: During your U.S. visit earlier this year, you lobbied on behalf of the stalled HOPE trade bill that could bring thousands of apparel assembly jobs to Haiti. Do you believe the U.S. Congress will approve it?
• A: It’s one of the things that can help to create job and stabilize the political situation, by removing the economic pressure. I hope the U.S. congressmen and the administration will understand the importance HOPE has for Haiti…I’ve done all the lobbying I can.”
• Q: Critics charge that the shift of about $3 million in the government’s budget to study the creation of a better-armed ”policing” group may be an attempt to re-create the army, which was abolished in 1995. You’ve said it isn’t.
• A: For me, the public (security) force that we need is a (defense force) to survey boats, the frontier and intervene in natural disasters. Protection of the airport, the ports, that’s not the work of the police.
• Q: Sixty-five percent of the $1.6 billion budget Haiti recently adopted relies on foreign aid. What are you doing to ensure that promised foreign aid actually arrives?
• A: Money has been promised, but a lot of that money is going into the non-governmental organizations. That is the first problem. That is why we insist right now they give us budget support. Even if they they say the money is earmarked for specific projects, it’s the Haitian government that will decide how to divvy up the money … Because the government was weak it had no choice but to go through the NGOs. But eventually the government needs to take control of the NGOs without (alienating) them … They have to do things in conjunction with the government, otherwise it won’t be effective.
• Q: Some peasant organizations are demanding land reform. Do you have any plans to address this?
• A: The problem in Haiti is, if you take the titles to property and put them next to each other, you would find that Haiti is five times bigger than it is in reality. And all of those documents are valid. They are official. They are good. But that leads to fights. You have to resolve the question of property in the rural zones. Who really owns the land? If a person doesn’t have assurances that the property really is theirs, they are not going to invest in it …. You see all of the houses in the (slums), there are no titles for them. It’s dead capital because the person cannot sell it, they cannot take a loan out on it at the bank … We are going to work on this.
• Q: You definitely have better relations with MINUSTAH than the interim government. What happened?
• A: What has changed is Haiti right now has a legitimate government and this legitimate government has a will to take the country by the hand. That’s why at the donors conference, we were the ones who did the documents. We didn’t say give us what you have or what you want, we put together the documents and said ‘here are our needs.’ And with MINUSTAH we said here is what we would like for you to do; they meanwhile did what they were able to within the limits of their mandates. I believe they are really happy to find a government that says what it wants.
• Q: The government has been criticized for giving each of the 129 members of parliament a $15,000 stipend toward the purchase of a car.
• A: The deputy is someone who comes from the province …. Just like the president has a car, same as the ministers have a car, he needs a car so that he can go home, go to work and return to the province …. He doesn’t have any money. Now we have two choices. Buy a car for every deputy, a car that costs $40,000 … We gave them $15,000, toward the $40,000 to buy a new car. The government has already saved $25,000.
© 2006 MiamiHerald.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.